The purgatory that is life without a World Cup berth continues to be the reality for U.S. national team fans, who are left to subsist on the glimpses of hope provided by younger and younger rosters being called up for largely meaningless friendlies.
That sad reality is only magnified more by an absence like Christian Pulisic's from the current squad. When the team's biggest star is left with his club team rather than brought into what would have been his first national team camp in five months it serves as a harsh reminder of the limbo the team finds itself in.
The good news is that there is more young talent to integrate, and more promising prospects to bring along. Prospects like Andrija Novakovich, who is scoring goals galore in the Dutch second division, youngsters like Antonee Robinson, the Bolton left back who is a regular starter in the English League Championship while on loan from Everton and of course Paris Saint-Germain forward Timothy Weah.
There are also the established youngsters like Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, as well as Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga, who are seen as leading candidates to anchor the next World Cup qualifying cycle. Seeing those young standouts get the opportunity to develop regular roles with the national team is one of the few silver linings helping ease the pain for U.S. fans.
Here are some thoughts on the U.S. squad called in to face Paraguay on March 27:
Silver lining of Pulisic's absence
Christian Pulisic's absence from the U.S. squad was surely met with some disdain by fans who were eager to see him back in the mix, if only to establish some fresh memories of him in a U.S. national team uniform to help replace the images of him shedding tears last October. As understandable as the disappointment may be, Pulisic's absence may actually be a good thing.
His absence frees up the spotlight for others to show what they can do when given a prominent role, particularly in the attack. If Pulisic were on this team, he would be the center of attention, on and off the field, and the team would understandably defer to him in the friendly against Paraguay.
With Pulisic absent, both Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams should be able to take on larger roles in the midfield, while Darlington Nagbe should be able to provide some playmaking quality.
Allowing Pulisic to stay in Germany during the break also makes sense because of his continued battle for minutes at Borussia Dortmund, where he was mired in a slump that cost him his regular starting role. He has responded well to that slump with some good recent performances, but it still makes sense for caretaker U.S. coach Dave Sarachan to let him stay in Dortmund.
A national team return date for Pulisic remains unclear, but with the U.S. now scheduled to play a friendly at Talen Energy Stadium, a few hours drive from his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania, the Memorial Day match against Bolivia seems like as good a time as any to welcome Pulisic back into the national team.
Defender youth movement rolls on
Sarachan went with a very young group of defenders for this camp, bypassing the option of bringing in a veteran central defender and going with three center backs who are 22 or younger.
Carter-Vickers and Miazga have long been seen as the future of the U.S. center back position, but Erik Palmer-Brown joins his first senior team camp despite a lack of playing time on his loan with Belgian side KV Kortrijk. The former Sporting Kansas City defender has been limited to one 90-minute appearance with Kortrijk since arriving on loan from Manchester City, but now is the perfect time to give him a look.
Shaq Moore is another new face in the national team mix, having broken through with La Liga side Levante last fall for a half-dozen first-team appearances. Though his time with the first team has dried up, he still showed enough to merit a look as a long-term right back prospect.
Antonee Robinson is an interesting prospect. The England-born dual national has become a regular starter at Bolton, and gives the U.S. another candidate at a left-back position where there are few clear long-term options at the moment.
Replenishing the forward pool
The U.S. needs some new blood at forward, and Andrija Novakovich symbolizes that shift. The former U.S. Under-20 forward is tearing up the Dutch second division with Telstar, where he has scored 18 goals on loan from English club Reading FC, and at 6-foot-4, he is just the type of young target striker the pool needs.
"I'm just there for the experience," Novakovich told NH Nieuws . "Of course you want to play. Or course you want to get the opportunity and hopefully that can happen. It's an honor to be called up and I'm very pround and very happy."
Rubio Rubin impressed in the January camp, and has hit the ground running with Club Tijuana. The former U.S. Under-20 World Cup standout has played his way into regular minutes despite joining the Xolos late in the winter after signing just before the close of the transfer window. Now he rejoins the U.S. with a more realistic shot at earning a start in the Paraguay friendly.
Bobby Wood's return helps give the team one veteran to lead the group, while also giving Wood a respite from what has been a difficult stretch at relegation-bound Hamburg. The 25-year-old forward still figures to play a major role in the next World Cup qualifying cycle, so it makes sense for Sarachan to bring him back into the fold for the first time since the loss to Trinidad & Tobago.